.Soif’s New Chef Serves Up Hearty Winter Menu

Chef Tom McNary’s winter menu at Soif is long on New American comfort dishes accented by seasonal sides. Citrus relish, roasted root veggies, hearty meats, and salads that pay attention to top local ingredients.

Three of us met last week to celebrate the holiday season, the shortest days of the year, and longstanding friendship. And of course, to sample some of the new items on Soif’s menu after McNary took the helm of the downtown Santa Cruz restaurant and wine bar in October.

It was a night for indulgence, and so we chose some very nice wines to accompany our meal. Patti likes Pinot Noir, so for her there was a gorgeous French Burgundy from Michel Sarrazin 2017 ($12), with pert tannins, spice and dark berries in the finish. Melody splurged on a 2010 Casanuova delle Cerbaie Brunello di Montalcino ($18), and I treated myself to an opulent, plummy, meaty 2015 Chateauneuf du Pape from Roger Perrin ($20) that was worth every penny.

We also had some food with our terrific trio of red wines, starting with shared plates of fat, fragrant arancini ($11) and Dungeness crab salad ($14). Our server supplied extra plates so that we could sample freely.

Spheres of arborio rice arrived generously dusted with parmesan and piping hot, so that every forkful revealed a molten core of fontina. A spicy tomato sauce added piquance to this very appealing starter. The salad offered an over-abundance of lettuces, fennel and citrus, though rather less crab than we had hoped. Colorful with slices of watermelon radish, the salad relied on pastel morsels of winter citrus for much of its impact. We might have liked a smaller portion—this was a very large salad—where the crab meat could have made a bigger impression.

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My entree of diver scallops  ($34) was beautiful to the eye. Three huge, perfectly cooked scallops on a cloud of celery root puree, adorned with slender parsnips and carrots, and deep green beet leaves. Again, the grapefruit and citrus relish threatened to overwhelm the delicate shellfish.

Melody’s grilled ribeye was a hit ($33). Excellent beef, sliced so that the crimson interior showed off nicely, came with a rich Bordelaise red wine and demi-glace sauce. A plump pillow of scalloped potatoes sat on one side of the plate, which was ringed with buds of chartreuse romanesco and sweet roast carrots. The house dinner plates are quite large and allow for a wide margin of what we in publishing call “creative white space” around the main attraction. The central culinary ideas tend to gather in the middle of each plate.

Patti’s burger of ground ribeye ($18) was another star entree. Thanks to the huge dinner platters, the burger arrived with a landslide of french fries that might have served the entire Golden State Warriors team. We actually had to chuckle at the sheer quantity of fries. The burger was perfect! On a tasty, soft brioche bun, with aioli, pickled veggies and a deep well of ketchup, it was a great value for its price.

Along with decaf and a glass of port, we attacked a lemon tart dessert with three forks ($10). Indulgence shared feels less naughty, we agreed. Decorated with remarkably ripe, flavorful raspberries and an oval of whipped cream—also embedded with raspberries—the tart let us down. The crust was a bit thick, and the thin layer of lemon filling lacked bold citrus punch. This was a polite tart, rather than a tart tart.

The sweet sounds of live jazz sent us happily out into the chilly evening. Remember, Mondays at Soif involve music starting at 6:30 p.m. Plan your seating accordingly.

Soif Restaurant & Wine Bar, 105 Walnut Ave., Santa Cruz. 423-2020, soifwine.com.

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